So.... here's something new: an Inferno Blog.
Not sure how this will come together - if we will write all the content, or open it up to other's ... for *sure* we'd love to hear from you if you have your own Inferno story to tell....
In the meantime, I'd like to share mine, so bare with me. :)
My name is Elle - I'm the tallish, not skinny, possibly overly-friendly - bracelet girl turned recent photographer for the Portland dances and I also worked our dance on NYE in Seattle.... so you might have seen me either asking for your email, asking if you're single (and hence need a glow bracelet) or shoving my camera in your face.
Clearly, I'm good at first impressions. ha ha ha
I have been coming to Inferno dances for the last year, and if you know me at all, then you know that Inferno means the world to me. THE. EFFING. WORLD. (oh... and you also would already know that I tend to swear.. a lot. :)
15 months ago I had finally come to terms with the fact that I was *not*, even though I was already 37 years old - I was not going to grow up to be the girl my parents wanted me to ... happy, married to a man, 2 kids, picket fence... etc.
Growing up in a fairly small and fairly religious home being "gay", the very *idea* of "gay" was not terribly welcome. In fact... it was something that was believed to be "wrong" and, frankly, I'm sure more than a few of you out there can fill in the blanks with the usual things certain family members or friends have said to you about being "gay". So, like many people within the LGBTQ community, I didn't feel like I had a 'choice' to be anything but 'straight', but now it was time to face the rainbow laden piper and accept the truth: I was a lesbian.
I felt guilty and 'dirty' as my Kindle filled up with lesbian literature, seasons of The L Word and The Real L Word and movies about Brandon Teena. It was quickly becoming a dirty little secret and I guarded my Kindle with my life - hoping no one would pop it open and see what was on my 'carousel' of purchases.
At that point, I didn't have one single Lesbian friend and only knew two gay men (a couple). I first went to them and told them how I was feeling - how I *had* been feeling for years and they paused, looked at each other and one of them turned to me and said, "Honey…. we knew you were one of us the first night we *met* you- it's about time!".
F*ck. Had it always been this obvious to everyone but me?
They told me to go out in the community - find a girl, have my "first experience" and "make sure" that I liked 'it' - *before* I came out to my family, because what if I didn't like sex with girls? What if it wasn't what I thought it was? Why upset my whole family to change my mind later…….?
I wasn't so sure about that idea - other than I knew I needed to get out in my community and make friends. However, I didn't much like the idea of "experimenting" with another human being…. women are *people* - I didn't think they were something I should take for a sexual 'test drive'. It felt wrong…. and I wasn't sure I could do that. BUT…. was it that I couldn't *be* with a woman? Was this a convenient barrier I was putting up? Without knowing…. I guess I wouldn't "know" - but it still seemed wrong to "test" things out on another person.
I went online and I typed in, "Lesbian Portland" - and I started going out to everything Google suggested. I went to gay bar after gay bar - alone. I ate lunch and dinner at Dingo's - alone. I hung out at what were listed as 'gay friendly' coffee shops and deli's….. I tried to surround myself with as much of the LGBTQ community as I could. Just sit, watch, listen and *try* to learn.
One day, at Dingo's, the gorgeous waitress could see that I was alone…. again. She was kind enough to chat with me and I just came out and asked her where someone might meet other girls in town….. she pulled out her phone, went to her facebook page and wrote down a whole list of gay and lesbian events.
The second thing on the list from the gorgeous waitress was going to something called Inferno. Inferno was a lesbian dance held at a local Portland bar once a month…. so I looked it up online, wrote down the date and I waited anxiously because it was still a few weeks away.
The night of Inferno came I had yet to make any "friends" within the community, and I was scared. Oh, feck.... was I scared. Would these 'lesbians' see right through me???? Would they know I had been with a man? Would they see the tell-tale signs of stretch marks from having babies and then run the other way screaming, "Here comes another 'confused' straight girl from the 'burbs... run for your gay lives!!!!"
I was nervous and scared and I had certainly not had any kind of "experience"…. and I walked into that dance and it was like a f*cking cloud parted and rainbows filled the room….. no, seriously.
I know that sounds super gay…. but it was *was* super gay - but in the very best way.
There were woman everywhere.
Women who looked like 'women' in heels and make up.
There were athletic girls in tank tops with toned arms and backwards hats.
There were women who looked like men, with short hair and boys clothes.
and me…. in my Mom jeans, black sandals and Old Navy t-shirt.
I'm pretty sure I really looked like lesbian repellent…. seriously.
I was surrounded by girls …. girls kissing other girls, flirting with other girls… laughing with other girls… grinding on other girls….. and I never felt so 'at home' in my whole life. It was like having spent 37 years standing in rooms never *once* feeling like I actually fit-in…. and suddenly: I did.
I didn't know a single soul in the room….. and yet, I felt like I was at home.
I stood, for the most of the night, off to the side on my own. I watched these women of all ages dancing and expressing themselves and I was mesmerized. I had never been in a room full of lesbians in my entire life… and here I was: immersed in them.
They were intoxicating.
More importantly, even if they *did* suspect I was a girl Previously Known As Straight, they weren't running from the building, or making me feel unwelcome. In fact... it seemed like they didn't care. There smiles and hello's all around the room - I was *welcome*.
After a while this totally gorgeous girl came over to me. She was around my height and age - covered in tattoos with short hair and wearing boys clothes…. and I was … barely able to breathe.
As she talked to me, her hand brushed my arm and I felt my chest tighten and my head get a bit light… I could do barely more than nod in agreement and laugh at the appropriate parts of the conversation. My entire body responded - without my even having time to think about it - without time to process what it all meant…. it responded to her every gentle, ever-so-slight touch of her fingertip on my shoulder or hand as she talked.
Then she asked me to dance.
Ok…. so *she* danced and I kind of kept myself together enough to sway in some kind of rhythmic fashion and then she turned and grinded up on me (but not in a 'twerk' kind of way … just in the general dancing really close kind of way….) - and..... I almost passed out.
My hand to G*d - I seriously had to leave the dance floor and go back to lean on the wall. My head was light, my heart was beating out of my chest - parts of me that I was pretty sure had rotted closed in the year before.... were warm and….. tingly.
Sh*t. I liked girls. I mean…. I *really* like girls.
More to the point: I liked girls who 'looked' like boys.
I would later learn that the kind of 'girls' I liked were usually 'butch'.... I had so much to learn.
When the dance was over she walked me to my car and we exchanged numbers (after that we became friends and nothing more.)
I drove home that night firm in my heartfelt conviction that 8 year old me was right: I liked girls.
More than that... I knew that I wanted to dance with them.
I knew that my body wanted to hold them and be next to them.
I knew that I wanted... more than anything to kiss them... and do other things to them.
I also knew... just from that Inferno dance-floor, that no "experimenting" was needed.
I had found myself, as cliche as it sounds: out there on that dance-floor... and there was no turning back.
I was confident that I didn't need to 'test drive' anyone for anything….. if just *dancing* with a girl - feeling her body pressed up against mine, feeling her sports bra under my finger tips, smelling the boys cologne coming off the back of her neck…. if *that* was enough to make me *literally* weak in the knee's…. I was gay. Period. As gay as a rainbow unicorn: Lesbian. Queer. Dyke.
And .... proud of it.
And I couldn't wait to come out of my closet…. so I danced right on out of it and started living.
I came out the next day to my entire family, and then my friends in the weeks that followed. I had still never held a girl's hand, kissed a girl Katy Perry style or otherwise... but I learned enough on that Inferno dance floor to know that it was more than "ok" to be who I was.... it was necessary.
So .... on this 38th birthday and my FIRST BirthGAY.... I want to say thank you.
Thank you to Pauline who took me under her wing, and created a place for all of us.
Thank you to D.J.Wildfire and Army for allowing me to stay on and continue to work for Inferno.
Thank you to the girl who first asked me to dance.... your kindness changed my life.
Thank you to the first girl who offered to buy me a drink that night... whose 2014 wedding I'm photographing, you are awesome and inspiring in ways you don't even know.
And thank you to YOU..... even if I didn't know your names, or who you were - I looked forward to seeing your faces *every* other Saturday last Spring. YOU were my lifeline to who I was. YOU kept me going when I was still barely getting out there and making friends. You didn't know me, didn't know my name and probably (most likely) you thought I was the most overachieving and over-friendly 'door girl' in Inferno history.... but you have no idea how much you mean to me.
Seeing you there dance after dance.... there. visible. OUT.
Meeting you dance after dance.... open. friendly. kind.
YOU are amazing and I'm so incredibly grateful..... so thank you.
And come to the BIRTHDAY INFERNO for Army & me this Saturday!
I'll be the girl - no longer standing on the sidelines, no longer waiting to be asked to dance.
I'll be the girl, proud and grateful to stand in this community.
I'll be the happy girl, still wearing my 'mom' jeans, still with my stretch marks and beaming with PRIDE.
See you then!